For some reason, hardly anyone visits Romania. I rarely ever saw any large groups of tourists while here. But for the travelers that make the journey, they all seem to flock to Brasov. Out of the all the places in Romania I visited, Brasov definitely had the most people. I think people are drawn here by the Dracula mythology, though there is nothing related to him here. (There’s sadly very little Dracula tourism in Romania. I was very disappointed as I wanted some cheesy tourist traps dedicated to him.) And since there is a lot to do in this part of Transylvania, Brasov makes for a logical base of operations.
Despite the crowds (and I use that term loosely when compared to places like Paris or Amsterdam), I liked Brasov, as I found the mix between historic and modern very well balanced. The core of the city is this beautiful medieval destination, but walk five minutes in any direction and you start to see modern glass buildings, malls, and wide streets. Moreover, Brasov has a wide variety of food, from local Romanian fare to good international food. I also enjoyed the fact that there were a lot of hiking trails where you could escape the chaos of the town center.
So, the city had energy, lots to do, and a close proximity to nature. Throw in some medieval buildings and there’s no way I wouldn’t go back to visit. If you find yourself in Brasov, here’s what I recommend doing:
Free walking tour – There is a free walking tour run by some local students. (They also do one in Bucharest too.) It lasts about 2-3 hours and takes you all over the city. It’s very comprehensive and provides a good overview of the history of Brasov. It leaves at 6pm from the town square.
The Black Church – The main Gothic-style church in the country, this church is “black” because most of it burned down in the Great Fire of 1689. Most of the interior is actually Baroque style now, though many parts of the original Gothic work remain. It has also been redone a few other times since that fire. I can’t say it’s the best church I’ve ever seen, but it was still interesting to look at, considering the wide array of architectural styles inside.
Town Museum – Located in the town hall, this museum features artifacts from the Stone Age up to the present. The best part of the museum is the detailed timeline of the city at the start of the museum. The museum is mostly artifacts, old furniture, and some weapons and suffers from a common problem most museums in Romania have: poor descriptions. You don’t get a lot of context for what you are looking at. That being said, I would still go back because of all the historical relics.
Hike the mountain – Offering a beautiful view of the old city and the surrounding area, Tampa Mountain is the big one you see right next to the city. You can hike up it if you want (it’s not that steep and takes about an hour) or you can take the cable car up. There’s a restaurant on top, and you can also hang out by the Hollywood-esque Brasov sign.
Rope Street – The narrowest street in Europe, at 1.3 meters (4 ft.) wide. Other than being really tiny, there’s nothing particularly special about the street, but it does make for some good photos.
The Schei district – This district located outside the city walls was where the Romanians used to live: only Saxons were originally allowed to live inside the city walls, forcing the Romanians to live undefended outside. Today, the area is a maze of quiet cobblestone streets with medieval-looking homes, a few really posh houses, and no tourists. I ended up wandering around this area, “getting lost” for about three hours. It was a peaceful alternative to the busy city center, and my walk was one of the highlights of my time in the city. I find nothing more peaceful than an aimless walk through a historic area.
The first Romanian school – In the Schei district, you’ll find two points of interest: the first Romanian school and St. Nicholas Church, which are both located in the same place. The school is a two-room building: one side has a classroom, the other side highlights the first printing press and original books from the 16th and 17th centuries. The docent gives a good little talk on the history of the school from its founding in 1499.
Bran Castle – Bran castle is hugely touristy. I’m not sure why people refer to it as “Dracula’s castle,” considering he never stayed there and it has nothing to do with him. But hey, it draws the crowds. (They do have one room dedicated to his life and legend.) Despite all the people, I really did enjoy the castle. It’s a beautiful medieval fortress, and the grounds are nice too. Try to get there very early in the morning to avoid the maddening crowds.
Rasnov Fortress – Rasnov is the second big attraction in the area, after Bran Castle. Inside the citadel, you can find an interesting museum, archery, and a tavern. There are also sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, as well as of the Hollywood-esque Rasnov sign. (They really like their big signs in this area.) The town itself is a mini version of Brasov and is along the way to Bran Castle so it’s convenient to get to. I took the bus to Bran and visited Rasnov on the way back to Brasov.
There are a few other activities to do in town. I enjoyed visiting the old historic walls and bastions that still exist. There are also two big towers, the White Tower and the Black Tower, that over look the town. They were old guard towers and provide excellent views of the city. (Just don’t pay money to go into them (or any of the other bastions either). They are a huge ripoff, as there is really nothing inside worth seeing and with the roofs closed off, you don’t even get a better vantage of the city for your photos.)
I loved my visit to Romania and I found Brasov to be my favorite city. I had the best time there and it was a wonderful base for exploring the area. Brasov combined the medieval and modern very well. It had a lot more energy and charm than other places in Romania, and unlike most of the other medieval cities I saw in Romania, it didn’t shut down at 11pm. Overall, Brasov was just great. (The downside to its greatness is that it becomes the main destination for most tourists coming to Romania. But once outside the main town square, you’ll only share the city with the locals.)